Biodiversity in the Hakatere/Ashburton
The river catchment supports more than a dozen native fish including the threatened Canterbury mudfish, and vulnerable invertebrate species such as the koura. Almost 50 native bird species live in the catchment, including the endangered wrybill, and black-billed gull, Tarapuka, which nest near the main road bridge.
As Chairwoman of the local Forest and Bird branch committee, Edith has recently again raised concerns at the time it is taking to increase the ﬂow in the Hakatere/Ashburton River.
“I’m relieved to see more Environment Canterbury councillors now have a greater interest in environmental matters. This has included a deﬁnite willingness to listen to the concerns about the environment and biodiversity loss,” she says.
“I want to be optimistic that the tide is turning for the wellbeing of the Hakatere/Ashburton River, but I believe that abstraction from the river needs to be curtailed for there to be any meaningful improvement.”
Ashburton Water Zone Committee Chair Bill Thomas says that the health of the Hakatere/Ashburton River is one of the committee’s top priorities, and that was reflected in the Zone Implementation Programme (ZIP). The ZIP informs Council water planning decisions including the Ashburton Consents Review process.
The Zone Committee recognised the importance of the Hakatere/Ashburton River in the Zone Implementation Programme (ZIP) which strives to improve and protect the river’s natural character and mauri.
“It’s scenic and beautiful – everyone who drives into Ashburton from the south goes over the bridge and sees this lovely river, so it’s important to us this river is there for the next generation and the ones to come.”
Included in the ZIP priorities is that “the natural flow regime of the Hakatere/Ashburton River is restored and enhanced,” and “sufficient and secure river flows and high-quality water is available for recreation, mahinga kai, farming, and in-stream habitat and species.”
Bill says that decisions were made on the Hakatere/Ashburton River 20 or 30 years ago, which yielded the outcomes we have today. But improving the state of the river will take time.
“We’ve got to try to counterbalance what’s gone on in the river to try to get it back to what it was. It's probably taken 50 or 60 years to get to where we’re at, and yet we want to try to improve it in 10 years. That’s just not going to happen, so we’ve got to have a bit of patience to get it.”
Bill says that setting minimum flow levels will make a difference to the river ecosystem’s health, and that’s something that all parties are striving for.
“However, under consent review, one side of the equation is getting hit pretty hard to make it work for the other side.”
“It’s a very sensitive issue because you have a farming fraternity who have lived by the river for generations and developed their business around that river. You have groups that really enjoy the environment – walking and fishing in it. Now both those groups have to coexist.”
“The greatest damage was done to the Ashburton River in the early 1980s. It was dreadful. The in-thing, all up and down the river and all around was to apply for a water right. We just had a cycle where it was dry for years on end and there was no river mouth. Since then the river has declined even further.
“It’s taken a long time to get to where we are now. Back then, I remember conversations with farmer that went along the lines, very seriously, of the answer to irrigation problems being ‘We’ll take the rivers and you can have the lakes.’ That was the attitude, that’s just the way they were,” he says.
“I’d like to think we are now past that sort of patch protection to now saying look, as a community, let's see if we can work together and come to a solution here to give greater security going forward.”
“In 2001, the river was struggling and when water became available we would all take it. We were acting like a bunch of individuals back then and the river flow fluctuated a lot and was on restrictions for longer than if we had worked together better,” he said.
The Ashburton District Council, irrigation schemes and other farmers now share their water use data through the Water Users Group, working together to better manage the river as it approaches the minimum flow limit. Environment Canterbury provides a page of data including rainfall and river flows in tributaries, which helps build a better picture of the catchment.
“We’re more transparent with each other now, and we make reductions to manage the river better when it’s above the minimum flow. We know more about the river, how it responds to abstractions and how it recovers. We look at the hydrology, rain data, and at what’s going on in the catchment,” Chris says.
“When the river is near its minimum flow, it’s now about ‘How do we all get a bit of it?’, instead of only one or two users getting their cut of the resource. With real-time telemetered information available, along with on-farm storage, farmers can now manage their water use to match the state of the river.”